Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tiger Mommy in the Making?

I am attaching a video link of my eight year old daughter, Charlotte, playing a duet with her friend, Yuka, at the school assembly.  (Charlotte is the one with the big heart barrette and shorter hair.)  That gal does me proud!  I am also attaching a video of both of my daughters singing a song they learned in choir at school.  These girls are chalk and cheese in so many ways, but they love each other with an intensity and sweetness that (even when they are arguing) warms me like a mug of steaming cocoa.  Charlotte is certainly the more intense and driven of the two.  While Emily is more laid back about her endeavors, I would venture to say she is more relaxed and the one least likely to need therapy for being stressed and overworked in the future.  That can only be good.

Charlotte and Her Friend Performing Their Piano Duet

Charlotte is a different story.  The thing is, we don’t push her: she is motivated to do well.  All the time.  Whatever she sets her mind to, she embraces, goes forth and conquers.  Since the day we met her, seven years ago at a hotel in Nanchang, China, and we officially became a family (she was one year old at the time), she has shown a spirit of dedication, enthusiasm and unrelenting persistence (at the time that meant screaming at the top of her lungs for one week solid until she made her peace with the idea that we weren’t going anywhere and she was stuck with us as her parents).  With that comes a huge desire for attention (“Diva in the making?  Following in mama’s footsteps?” many of you who know me may be asking.) and approval.

We are so proud of both of our amazing daughters, but not because of all they can do.  Just because they are who they are: high-spirited, happy, playful little nutty kids.  I’ve written before about how I am not a tiger mommy and how I really want my children to have the “normal” childhoods of the kids of my generation.  The thing is: what is the new normal?

My children aren’t feeding the cows and chickens after school or gathering firewood for the woodstove like I did as a kid.  They aren’t manuring out the barn on Saturdays and weeding the garden.  I’m sure there are still some children in the developed world who are doing that, but not very many. What are my gals doing?  Frankly, less than most of their compatriots in Hong Kong, where the pressure to be involved in academic pursuits from morning until night and to be an expert in every sport, musical instrument and a straight A student is intense, even in primary school. 

The girls both take piano lessons and practice haphazardly.  Charlotte is more self-motivated than Emily, but what you see here in the video is most certainly not a result of a mean mama looking over her shoulder with a stern, “You’re not getting any ice cream until you practice your scales.”  Not even close.

The girls also do an hour of extra Mandarin study (outside of school) on Saturday mornings.  It’s fun, it’s at our house, and we feel we owe them the opportunity to become proficient, if not fluent, in the language of their birth country.  They love Tracy laoshi coming over to teach them.

They also have swimming in school as part of PE time and do one extra lesson in swimming in a week.  This one I insist on:  not because I am a lover of swimming (I can’t stand getting into any water that is colder than a steamy bathtub), but because it’s a life skill in addition to being a great sport.  Do I expect them to become competitive swimmers?  Of course not.  If they want to compete in any sport or skill (and I have a feeling Charlotte will, being the driven gal that she is), it is their choice.  We are both parents without competitive genes.  (Some of you may beg to differ when it comes to me, but you’ll certainly agree when it comes to my Type B sweetie.) 

Our expectations for ourselves and our children are simply that we practice kindness always and that we be the best we can be; but that we needn’t measure ourselves against anyone else.  Sadly, that is not the expectation of the Hong Kong Education Department or many other institutions that are set up around the world to standardize learning and test results.  Balderdash, I say.  (And that comes from a woman who has been teaching for going on 24 years now!)

Okay, there’s more.  Charlotte takes skipping lessons and Emily takes karate.  They chose these activities.  They love them.  We have a world-ranked skipping/PE teacher at our school that motivates the kids greatly, and Emily was inspired by Kung Fu Panda to develop her martial arts passion.

Homework?  Yes, there’s a bit.  Charlotte does hers and creates even more for herself: she writes books, keeps diaries, makes charts and compiles exhaustive lists.  Emily hides hers.  (But she’s six.  What do you want?)  Time for play?  Really quite a lot.  Evenings are filled with cars and stuffed animals and, yes, I’ll admit it (though I blame Don), iPhone games with Daddy. 

We share nearly every dinner together where there is plenty of talking about what we are thankful for, reminders to use a fork and knife and not fingers, and lots of laughter and joy (and sometimes outright frustration when Emily pretends to fall asleep because she doesn’t want to finish her supper or Charlotte spills her milk for the sixteenth time in a week). There are always bedtime stories and snuggles and every weekend is family time. 

Somehow, in this crazy world, we have managed to strike a reasonable balance of work and play for our children.  The good news is, they mostly perceive the work as play.  Now wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all do that?  I may change my tune as the children become teenagers and actively rebel against doing their homework or lessons and the stakes are higher, but for the time being, tiger mommy I most certainly am not!

Goals for the Remainder of the Week:

To encourage the kids to do at least a bit of piano practice, especially Emily.  Charlotte, of course, will do it without prompting.

To do some baking with the girls.

To do some hiking with the whole family.

To have Emily dress up in her tiger costume and scare us all; she plays a tiger a lot better than her Mommy does!

Emily being a tiger daughter.


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